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Semantic change

    '''Semantic Change''' is a change in the meaning of a word This will commonly happen as words are lost from a language and others come in. It is easy to see in everyday language particularly when referring to recent inventions (An encyclopedia would only be on the net a few decades ago if it fell off the shelf when someone was preparing to go fishing) Yet it is even clearer when studying the texts of

    Types of Semantic Change

    The four main types of semantic change are extension narrowing amelioration and pejoration However there are many other types as well
    Extension is where a word widens its meaning For example virtue used to just be a man's quality (Ver is Latin for 'man') In Todays equal society it applies to women as well
    Narrowing is where a word's meaning becomes more specialised For example in old English meat (or rather mete) referred to food in general
    Amelioration is where a word loses negative connotations For example mischievous used to mean "disasterous" where it now only means "playfully annoying"
    Pejoration is where a word develops negative connotatins For example notorious has always meant "widely known" Yet it has gone through the process of extension to now mean "widely and unfavourably known"
    Semantic Shift is where a word moves from one set of circumstances to another For example navagator once applied only to ships However with the development of planes and cars it now applies to these as well
    Figurative Use is a change in meaning that is based on an analogy or likeness between things For example a crane is a bird with a long neck but it is also now a piece of equipment for lifting weights
    A cliché is a phrase expression or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty and so new phrases have to be thought up
    A euphemism is a word created to mask the negative connotations of a certain object or action For example snogging was once an alternative word for sex (though it has now been ameliorated to mean only simultaneously kissing and hugging)
    Political Correctness is a real or perceived attempts to impose limits on the acceptable language and terms used in public discussion For example "blackboard" is now perceived as being "politically incorrect" in the United Kingdom and so teachers are instructed to call it a "chalkboard" instead
    Many words go through more than one process A good example of this is the word punk It initially meant "boy" However it was then perjorated to mean "prostitute" In the 1970s the word was then ameliorated to describe a music genre

    History of Semantic Change

    Semantic Change has happened since languages were first made However the study of semantic change only dates back tothe 1930s
    The pioneer in this field was a German linguist called Trier who presented his findings in 1934 In his studies he showed how the structure of the German language had changed between 1200 and 1300
    In 1200 the German language had no seperate word for cleverness It only had kunst for "courtly skills" and list for non-courtly skills The language also included the word wîsheit for any kind of knowledge
    By 1300 howerver things had changed Wîsheit had been narrowed to just mean "religious experience" Meanwhile kunst was beginning to take on the meanin of "art" or "skill" List had been removed from the language entirely as it had begun to gain pejorative connotations List has returned to Modern German where it now means "cunning" or "trick"


    Perhaps the most notable semantic change which many people have an opinion on, is the word gay Originally meaning happy and commonly appearing in Christmas carols it was picked up by homosexuals as an acronym for "Good As You" There are differing opinions on whether this was amelioration or pejoration


    • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987) David Crystal
    • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995) David Crystal